Twenty years ago, one man sparked the uprising of an entire community. The mention of his name held tension, outrage, and passion. That man was Rodney King. Today, the name of another man, ten years younger, is sparking another movement.
That young man’s name is Trayvon Martin. On Saturday morning, in a meeting called, ‘Black Men Stand Their Ground: Justice for Trayvon Martin,’ over 200 Los Angeles community members gathered in an Inglewood church to discuss race relations and the profiling of black men.
The first hour of the meeting hosted by radio station KJLH was spent reviewing details of Martin’s case. The second part of the meeting called for attendees to participate and voice their solutions for race relations relating to the black community.
Minister Tony Muhammad, organizer of the Nation of Islam, Reverend Lewis Logan, co-founder of Ruach Christian Community Fellowship, Cedric Watkins, partner at Watkins Group & Associates and YoYo, a rap artist, led a panel discussion.
Lines of people quickly filled the church’s three aisles, as community members voiced their concerns and offered solutions over a period of two hours. Given the number of people, not everyone got a chance to speak.
The solutions offered were varied – from increased education to matters of dress code. Some argued that attendees should wear hoodies to protest against the profiling of black men in hoodies as a threat. Others suggested the opposite path, saying they should wear suits to guard against wrong perceptions.
The one thing that people agreed on was that there is still a need for a movement creating intentional change in widespread perceptions of the black community.
Reverend Logan called for action saying, “Not only are we standing our ground, but it’s time for a movement,” making reference to the meeting’s title, “Black Men Stand Your Ground.”’
Organizers of this meeting hope it won’t be an isolated event. The panel has planned more “movement meetings” as an action step to progress in the improvement of race relations and equality in the public perception of the black community.
“We didn’t come just to talk. We came to reflect and then we came to project,” said Logan. “You can only keep what you are organized to take. And if you are not organized, you will not take anything.”
Those in attendance also voiced concern that the black community is not organized, because they have stopped behaving like a community, neglecting to live life with one another and speak with each other.
Though outraged by the shooting of Trayvon Martin, some expressed hope that this event would achieve this goal of bringing together their community.
“It’s unfortunate that this young man has to be the catalyst for this to happen but sometimes God has a reason for things,” said Donna Armbrister, a teacher from Watts who attended the meeting. “His death is not going to be in vain. As long as I have breath in my body, it’s not going to be in vain.”
This “catalyst” has provoked a national uproar at what many feel was the senseless killing of a young black man, not unlike the uprising against what many felt was the senseless beating of Rodney King.
Twenty years after the LA uprising of 1992, community members have mixed feelings on whether or not race relations have changed in the United States.
Armbrister said that race relations have definitely improved, but qualified her statement by saying, “A black man is still perceived as evil and until that changes we need to be vigilant as a race and as people to make sure that our children are not forgotten and are not seen as a threat.”
Robbie Davis, a 20-year resident of Los Angeles, disagreed with Armbrister, but agreed that the perception of the black community is the main contributor to racial inequality.
“Relations have not changed until all communities are seen as equal,” said Davis. “If you perceive a certain community in the manner that you can treat them differently from another community then things have not changed.”
Derik Cross, 48, born and raised in Los Angeles, cited the lack of discussion and movement as a reason for little change in race relations, saying, “The problem is we never talk about race. We talk about race in a vacuum for a moment and then there’s no follow up on this. It’s embarrassing.”
Many community members agreed saying simply showing up and talking about issues is the first step to change.
“Whenever you have an opportunity to hear the community speak, then you show up, said Davis. “In terms of immediacy, that doesn’t happen; but I will show up as long as it takes.”
The first follow-up to Saturday’s meeting will be held on April 11th at 6:30pm at Bethel AME Church.